Friday, March 30, 2012

Why serve?

Changing A Life, One House At A Time by Kim The Star Princess
Changing A Life, One House At A Time,
a photo by 
Kim The Star Princess on Flickr. 
Why serve?  Why would you go out of your way to help another person?  You have worked hard, perhaps even faced struggle and hardship, to be where you are right now.  Perhaps your own ducks aren't exactly lined up - why would you help somebody else when you need help yourself?

You do it because it's right.  You do it because that person has a life like yours, family like yours, dreams like yours.  You do it because if you were in the same straits as they, you would thank heaven for people who would help you.  You do it because the larger community takes care of its own.

Maybe you do it to live your values.  Maybe you do it because your friends are there too, and service allows you the opportunity to connect with them and have fun while doing good.  Maybe it helps you forget your own troubles for a while, or it makes them feel smaller by comparison.  Maybe you do it to model it for your kids.  Maybe you even do it for marketing.

The important thing is that you do it.  Not just because they need it (although they do, and badly), but because of what service does to your insides.  Service raises you as a human being, and it keeps you humble.  Service puts your world in perspective.  In service you are reminded that people don't all have the opportunity to live the way that you do.  They don't all have great stuff, or bodies that operate properly, or minds that can enable them to pull down a great living for themselves and their families.

It's easy to look away from circumstances that are not pretty.  It's easy not to notice the need when it's not right in front of you.  But service is a mindset, an attitude.  Service need not be limited to charitable ventures - you can have an attitude of service at work, and with your family and friends.  If you look for opportunities to serve, the opportunities will appear.

Much is written about leadership.  The thing is that it's easy to confine the idea of leadership to the person who is in the front, or at the top.  Sometimes the best way to lead is not in those places.  Sometimes the best way to lead is from the bottom, by choosing the humblest of jobs - just because it needs to be done.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Before anything else - make a friend

Friends by Toyamarie
Friends, a photo by Toyamarie on Flickr.
On what basis can you work on a project effectively with another person, help someone buy your services, feel comfortable in your new job or new neighborhood?  You start by making a friend.

Geography and the culture attached to various locations make this a topic that's important to consider.  If you're in the urban Northeast, how much time do you think that you're allotted in a first meeting to become acquainted before you're considered a time-waster?  My bet is that it's a far smaller slot of time than you would be REQUIRED to invest in many other places before you can have the favorable attention that helps you and the other party proceed.

This step is not necessarily long in duration, but you are likely not to succeed if you try to skip it.  On the flip side, certainly you don't want the roller blinds sliding down over the other person's eyelids with big X's on them that mean "My listening capacity has been reached."  They don't necessarily need to know your life history - if they are genuinely interested they will volunteer information about themselves as well.  It will be an exchange as you get to know one another.  The fact that they continue asking you questions without bringing forth any information of their own means that they are interviewing you.  They are controlling the conversation, and you haven't built a relationship.  Friendship goes two ways.

Do you have to be blood brothers in order to work well together or to do business?  That depends upon the intensity or perceived risk in the relationship you are going to pursue.  If you are giving a speech, you only need to grease the skids a bit - enough to cause the audience to pay attention to your message.  If you are eventually going to ask them to part with a large sum of money in exchange for your products and services, you had better be sure you know what they really want and need.  They will only share the information that is key to your sales process if you first earn their trust and demonstrate genuine interest.

Certain relationships and joint tasks require a high level of connection.  As the risk and investment go up, so does the requirement for relationship first. If you were going into combat with someone and risking your life, you would want to be absolutely confident that they have your back.  And you would understand their need to be confident in you as well.

Certain behavioral styles require a fair amount of relationship building before moving ahead, and others want to cut to the chase and get to the facts more quickly - this is behavioral style that is individual and unrelated to geography.  If you are alert in the moment, focused on them instead of on yourself, you can observe the behavioral cues that tell you to speed it up or slow it down.  Pace yourself with them if you want to help the two of you to be on the same page.

People do business with people they know and like.  If you do well at this part of the process, the rest becomes easier.  If you don't do well in this part - if you fail to establish rapport, or break rapport - the rest is moot.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When this is over, is it over for good?

Learning To Walk by dmacphoto
Learning To Walk, a photo by dmacphoto on Flickr.
In the past few months what seemed like an eternal string of days suddenly shot forward, and the end of an era seemed only an arms length away, and it was somewhat shocking.

Her daughter, only weeks away from being old enough to drive, would be climbing on a bus for a week-long trip without parents, without auntie or uncles or grandparents.  It was a preview of what the mom knew all along - that one of key jobs of a parent is to be able to let go and give space for her child to walk on her own.

If the mother does her job right, and if the child has learned her lessons well, there won't be another endless string of days.  There won't be complete reliance, or obedience to whatever the mother says and expects.  There will be more days ahead, God willing, but once the little girl learns to walk she walks, and she walks in her own direction that may or may not include regular time with her mother.

Some things in life are cyclical - economic booms and busts come around, and success often comes to the people who understand the laws of economic gravity:  what goes up will come down again.  That's not to say that everyone learns from cycles.  Some people are surprised (or devastated) again and again, after failing to anticipate that times of feast (or famine) will return.

Perhaps the challenge is to see what is happening right now and to recognize the difference between people and events that are part of a continuum that will roll forward, never backtracking, and things that will come around again.  When you know they will cycle back, like the sun that will rise again tomorrow, it's easy to take them for granted.  It's easy not to sweat over mistakes that were made or opportunities that were missed, because the chance will come again to do it the way you would prefer to do.  In cycles you have the opportunity for your own do-over.

Maybe the continuum, moving steadily forward, is only so when you're in it.  A birth, a death, a graduation, a coming of age - they are all milestones in the timeline of one person's life, but part of a cycle in the life of humanity.  But when you're in it, when you see and feel that movement forward, it can take your breath away for a second.  Then you take a picture, if only in your mind, file it safely away, and journey on.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Are you missing the value in doing public speaking?

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke at Vancouver Board of Trade and Q&A with Carole Taylor by RayVanEng
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke at Vancouver Board
of Trade and Q&A with Carole Taylor
a photo by 
RayVanEng on Flickr. 
Do you seek out opportunities to do public speaking?  While out in the field with coaching clients over the past couple of months, we've discovered that a lot of them have been looking for such opportunities, yet a number of them haven't been getting the results that they have wanted from the speeches they have already given.  

Let's start with a couple of simple assumptions:  that you know your topic and your platform skills are sound.  You know when to bring in visual aids to help the audience stay engaged with your message. You tell them what you're going to tell them, you tell them, and then you tell them what you just told them (classic speech structure).

Today we're going to look at your goal for doing the speech in the first place, and what you're doing around the speech to line up with that.  You might be speaking

  • To persuade an audience to agree with you on a certain topic
  • To educate about a particular issue about which you have expertise
  • To lay the foundation for the audience members to want to buy from you and your company
  • To entertain
  • __________________________
The ultimate goal of communication is to influence the behavior of the person(s) on the other end of the communication.  What behavior do you want the audience to exhibit once you have finished your speech?  Do you want them to register to vote?  Visit your company website?  Tell other people that you were the most hilarious speaker since Bob Hope and that they should also hire you?

If you want your audience to take some specific action after your speech, you need to provide a mechanism through which they can do that.  There are immediate "while the iron is hot" options available to you:
  • Registration forms for an upcoming program 
  • Your books for sale on a display in the room
  • Follow-up response cards
  • Website and newsletter sign-up sheets
If part of your goal is to generate qualified leads for sales, you can gather business cards for a drawing, and give something of value away at the end of the speech.  (Of course then you need to follow up in some way on the contact information they provided to you.)  Your speech need not be a once-and-done communication; rather it can be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue and relationship.

You might be surprised at the number of times speakers tell us war stories in the course of coaching about times that they didn't get any result from the time and effort they invested in preparing for a speaking engagement.  Yet as they answered questions about it, most of them revealed that they hadn't thought clearly enough about the goal of their speech, and that they hadn't incorporated some mechanism that would allow them to generate follow-on activity from it.  What have been your results?  What would you do differently next time?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Spring means reinvention, right?

Are you ready to be green and growing?  Have a personal reinvention in mind?  Watch this video mini-coaching for some insights about the process...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eluding Death by Information Overload

Buried by Auntie P
Buried, a photo by Auntie P on Flickr. 
"Fifty-seven channels and there's nothing on..."  "TMI, TMI!"  "What we have here is a failure to communicate..."  

Just where is the line between enough information and too much?  And what is the impact of too much information on the effectiveness of communication?

The culture of "need to know"
In certain work environments information is the ultimate power.  In high security work, being able to qualify for high-level clearances can mean the difference between being a drone and having the opportunity to be a star.  In old-school command and control work settings (not high security, but high tension) paranoid supervisors guard their knowledge fiercely.  After all, superior knowledge is all that's preventing some young upstart from unseating them or overpowering them in the company's political scene.

The policy of "need to know only" was the man keeping people down.  It had detrimental side effects that drove the communication issue to the forefront.  Functional silos where information didn't cross departmental lines and employees living the life of mushrooms (in the dark under a pile of manure) set the stage for daily activities and decision making that were out of context and therefore de facto flawed. Employees didn't know where they fit into the overall picture.  Mushroom management caused disengagement, where employees didn't feel invested in achieving good results and over time gave less and less of a rat's patootie about outcomes.  So the pendulum had to start to swing the other way.

Buried by data
Enter the information overload.  News comes 24/7, and in order to fill programming time small stories are blown up into big ones.  People have access to news from almost any corner of the world - on demand on their tv, radio, tablet, and smart phone.  Add to that general business information, updates and developments within the industry - whew!  It becomes an avalanche of data.  The brain spends so much time taking information in, and for what purpose?

Relevance becomes crucial in helping people sort through all of the data and decide what they really need to take in.  Part of the challenge lies in the fact that sometimes inspiration comes best from cross-fertilization from one industry to the next.  You might not know up front that information that might not seem to relate directly to you could help you solve a persistent problem.  So how do you know what to sort OUT in order to make room for the things you want to sort IN?

If you have a goal in mind you create a context for the data.  Otherwise information is just information.  Context gives you the opportunity to sort data in and out of your attention, because you're looking for application potential that's relevant to your goal.  When you look at data with a particular problem in mind, certain bits pop into the foreground.  A goal - or an intention if you are not ready to be completely specific - diverts some of the flow away from you and directs a more manageable stream in you direction.

When you cause the avalanche
If you are of the current leadership mindset that says more information is better than less information for your employees, beware.  You may be a contributor to the avalanche of data that overwhelms employees and paralyzes them.  Give them goals to help them sort through information.  Disseminate data in manageable bites.  A perennial workplace issue is that workers never read the manual - instead they interrupt their supervisor, tapping the boss on the arm and asking a question that could be found "in the book."  But the book weighs five pounds and is 3 inches thick.  Its mass alone stimulates that buried feeling in employees.  They don't even want to crack the cover much less search for an answer that could be had in one word from the right person.

It can be a problem for your employees if you think out loud at them regularly.  They might not be able to discern between brainstorming, decision making and direction giving, and later you will be likely to find yourself frustrated with the way in which they didn't follow through properly.  If you are an auditory processor you may need to sort things out by verbalizing them, but to avoid confusion on the part of your employees it might be a good move to engage a coach with whom you do the sorting.  That way your thoughts will be more fully formulated, you will have done the data sorting, and the message will be more focused, understandable and actionable for your employees.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Plugging into your purpose

Music connection by lucyb0625
Music connection,
a photo by 
lucyb0625 on Flickr. 
Sometimes the days are messy.  The traffic lights are all on red on your way to work, your coffee spills onto your shirt right before the big meeting, and your dog comes into the house tracking mud all over the floor.  Some days it's not fun.

On other days there's no mess, but there's no hum either.  They can be gray as you mindlessly follow your routine.  You grab an extra cup of coffee and tell the barista to "make it a black eye" to give you an extra jolt of get up and go.  Then it's back to the salt mines.

What's wrong with these pictures?  These days aren't plugged into purpose.  The connection between the tasks at hand and the reasons for doing them has been lost in the shuffle.  When you're not plugged into your purpose even the small obstacles can be aggravating; they might even become show stoppers.  When the context of purpose is lost you start to wonder why you bother.  And when other people are involved, a lack of shared purpose means that you have a harder time working in sync with one another.

Uncovering Your Purpose
You can rediscover (or perhaps discover for the first time) your purpose by asking the simple question "Why am I doing this?"  or "What are my really big reasons?" It's helpful to write your answers down, because when the going gets tough the things that are obvious to you in times of relaxation and contentment aren't so obvious.  You'll want to save your answers for a rainy day - one of those times when your pulse is racing in aggravation, or when you're yawning with boredom because the world looks monochromatic to you and the tasks are the same old same old.

Big and engaging purposes are other-centered.  They contribute to the well-being of other people and the world.  They are about service.  In what way do you serve?  What is your calling?  What would you do (or are you doing already) without pay, just because you feel uplifted and whole and in flow when you are doing it?

Fulfilling Your Purpose
The means by which individuals fulfill their purpose are as varied and unique as the individuals themselves.  "What is your purpose?" is Question Number One, and Question Number Two is "What do you do to fulfill your purpose?"

Summit's purpose is to unleash human capacity to create peace and prosperity.  We seek to fulfill that by coaching, volunteering, facilitating, listening, writing, and a multitude of other activities.  When we are on purpose and energized it is because we are doing those activities, and with an awareness of the way in which it is helping to bring us in better alignment with our purpose.

Even small (by whatever definition you use) tasks can become fulfilling when they are plugged into your purpose.  If your purpose is to create and maintain a peaceful and nurturing household, tasks as mundane as cleaning toilets can become connected to the purpose.  They become contributors to a big picture purpose that provides emotional reward, and because of that contribution the tasks acquire meaning.

Purpose and Leadership
When you're in charge it's your responsibility to help people connect with purpose.  You define it in ways that help your staff  "see" what it is that you mean.  You allocate resources in alignment with it.  You structure your company to ensure that you have the people properly positioned to fulfill it.  You notice behavior that is aligned with your purpose and acknowledge it publicly.

Purpose In Your Company
Nobody wants to feel like a cog in a big machine.  At work people want to plug into purpose - they want to align with the company's, and they will likely have their own.  People want to be a part of something that is constructive and energizing.  Your company's vision and values, when compelling, communicated and committed to, can become the higher motivation for daily activities.  Through the connection with purpose, the act of cutting stone can be transformed into the building of a cathedral, which can be transformed into bringing people closer to God.

What is your purpose?  Are you plugged into it?  How would your day look and feel differently to you if you were?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Protection from Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences by studio583art
Unintended Consequences, a photo by studio583art on Flickr. 
The dog had a ball at the park, racing around and rolling in any number of noxious substances, never thinking that the result would be a bath when he got home.  The teenager zoomed around the town with friends, sans seat belt in his new car, never thinking that a simple mistake would cost him and his two passengers their lives.

Sometimes actions have consequences that you can predict.  You play out the situation and the decision in your mind, evaluate the fallout, and determine whether you want to proceed anyway.  But sometimes actions create fallout that you didn't foresee, ramifications that won't go away.

Take the kid who decides to pound 21 shots to celebrate his 21st birthday, and poisons himself with alcohol. He doesn't get his life back just because he didn't mean to hurt himself.  Or look at the example of the girl who says "Of course I love you," and demonstrates it to her boyfriend in the old fashioned way.  Nature runs its course and she winds up losing out on her chance for a college education because she's too busy caring for her new baby.

When you look only at the immediate rewards, or the benefits that accrue only to you, you are setting yourself up for unintended consequences.  The challenge that is presented here is that although they are unintended, they are by no means unanticipatable.  You might not intend for things to run afoul, but they might - gravity happens whether you plan for it or not.  Bad guys do still hang out in some dark alleys, and if you choose to walk through them late at night you're still going to have to deal with them.

In the news right now there's controversy about whether health insurance should have to pay for women's contraception.  Sure, it's a cost, but what about the consequences of a decision like this - on women, on businesses, and on society as a whole?  The same people who don't want insurance to pay for women to have the pill don't want women to have access to abortions.  Last time I checked, less birth control equals more births.  More unintended pregnancies means more demand for abortion services, whether legal and safe or illegal and hazardous.  More births means more hungry and neglected children.  More births equal more absenteeism in the workplace while women bear (pun intended) the physical burdens associated with the process.  More absenteeism (even completely justified) means more incidences of a woman's career advancement being blocked by assumptions that she "lacks commitment to the job."

A decision in one place creates impact in other places.  If you are to protect yourself from unintended consequences you have to think beyond this situation to the whole system and its multiple potential impacts.  Then if you are able to see beyond the nose on your face and you make the decision anyway, shame on you. If somebody else is going to get hurt in order for you gain, and you know it - the consequences aren't unintended at all, even if you choose play them that way.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

You're saying more than you think you are

There are enough nuances, and certainly enough war stories, that this blog could be entirely consumed with the topic of communication.  It's the critical thread that helps you get the job done, or it's the irritant that gets under your skin as it creates false starts, errors, and crummy work relationships.  Effective communication can be a slippery devil because it has so many moving parts.  But let's have a go at a few of the issues today.

The message behind the message
That raised eyebrow or huffy stalk out of your office is often not related directly to whatever you just said.  You spoke (or concealed) volumes beyond the two sentences you uttered.  Your body language telegraphed that you weren't in the mood to have the conversation, your desk in its position across a vast expanse of Oriental carpeting conveyed that you are an authority figure and therefore due respect, and your clothing revealed that you pull down a large enough salary that you can splurge on custom tailoring.

You might be working right now to keep yourself friendly in a detached "don't want to get too chummy" leader kind of way.  But you're also telegraphing what you really think by:

  • How much you tell, and to whom, and with what timing.
  • Who you invite to meetings, and where each of you choose to sit - every time.
  • Whether you are a master of the memo or the chat as your predominant method.
  • What items are included in meeting agendas.
  • How decisions are made and communicated.  
Personality vs. Process
As the person in charge you are responsible for work processes, and communication processes are included. Many leaders relegate communication to chance, or they become frustrated because it's not happening due to a team leader's introversion or other personality trait.  But just like production is a series of replicable steps with a predictable outcome, communication, when viewed as a process and managed as such, is a powerful tool in setting the tone in the workplace.

The extent to which you manage communication, the relationship glue - in your business and in your life - tells people how important they are to you.  If you are seeking to be more influential whether you're in a role with formal authority or not, your attention to communication processes will help you.  This may be termed a soft skill, but it returns hard, tangible results when executed well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do you stand out in a crowd?

Dare to be different...stand out from the crowd. by RiaPereira
Dare to be different...stand out from the crowd.,
a photo by 
RiaPereira on Flickr. 
"I'm in a saturated industry," the financial planner commented.  He was a bit frustrated with the difficulty he has been having in generating a large enough customer base to meet his career goals.

It sounds like he sees himself as a commodity, or he thinks that prospective customers see him as a commodity, something that they can access almost anywhere.  When you're a commodity, customers can't differentiate between you and other providers, and that means that you'll probably be competing on price or some other criteria that may seem trivial or irrational. Sure, you might find yourself in the right place at the right time and fall into some new business, but what makes customers see the value in choosing to come to YOU?

Your Unique Selling Proposition is the thing or the sum of things that sets you apart from the field.  Do you know what yours is?  Are you:

  • Possessing the highest professional credentialing?
  • Open for business 24/7, so they can have service whenever they want or need it?
  • Able to develop new and different solutions - ones nobody else can see?
  • Exacting and detailed in your analysis?
  • A master of follow-through?
  • A paragon of integrity - you do what you say you will do, without fail.
  • The guy who wears the fedora?
  • A technological leader in your industry?
  • Do you sing while you serve dinner?
Attracting notice is one thing - providing real value is another.  The first will get you to the table of opportunity, but the second will determine whether you can bring opportunity to its fulfillment. Said another way (must be hungry while writing this,) the sizzle can attract people, but they will expect steak if they are to come back - and tell other people about you, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is your market too narrow, or too broad?

Targeted Marketing gone too far by Cameron_Talley
Targeted Marketing gone too far,
a photo by 
Cameron_Talley on Flickr. 
When Goldilocks entered the house of the three bears, one bowl of porridge was too hot, the next was too cold, but the third one was just right - and she ate it.  In the hunt for new business, owners and salespersons have a spectrum of prospective clients to pursue.  One of the challenges is for their prospecting to be not too broad, not too narrow - but just right.

In favor of narrowing your focus
If you center your business around generating and retaining loyal customers you'll be developing product and service offerings around what customers want.  Your name and marketing materials will also be designed to connect with your identified market segment.  Your pricing, payment terms and delivery systems will be engineered to suit your market. All roads lead to the customer in this scenario.

When you go into the field to connect with prospective customers you'll need to go where they are.  Sometimes this means appearing in media that they consume and sometimes this means physically going to the places where they are.  CEOs hang out at the country club and the symphony, for instance, and they volunteer in high-profile charities.  If you want to meet them, that's where you need to go.

Narrowing your focus will enable you to have a consistency of message and omnipresence within your niche that can help your customers connect with your company.  It's evident that teenaged girls are going to respond to different products and marketing messages than are middle aged professional men.  But even groups of teenaged girls vary - those in urban environments, or who are overweight, or who are athletes, are going to share discrete values and buying motives.  If you really want to attract them and keep them with you, you're going to allocate your resources in a narrow and deep fashion toward your target.

Specialists typically have deep knowledge and experience in their area of expertise, and the credibility that comes from that helps to attract customers.  It can attract referral business because helpful customers and connections can readily identify what you do - and they can readily pass the information along to someone who needs it.

In favor of broadening your market
How many prospects are there for the products and services you are selling?  How many one-legged sailors with curly red hair are there within striking range of your message?  Even assuming that you have exactly what they want, a one-off sales model is costly enough to you that you will have to price it accordingly, and that might put you out of that one guy's affordability ballpark.

In the mix of sales success there's the actual product or service, your marketing messaging, your delivery systems, your pricing, and your sales effectiveness.  You need a certain sample size to determine whether each of these components is working effectively.  Does your product meet and exceed customer requirements?  Are you overpriced?  Are you slow in delivery compared to the next company?  You won't be able to answer correctly and adapt (or pay the bills for that matter) if you have only a couple of at-bats per month.

In favor of a hybrid approach
The market seems to be a conglomeration of niches, so perhaps the "just right" dish of porridge for you is to identify several niches to target.  You can become narrow and deep, but in a few different places.  It helps if there is some commonality among the niches you serve, to keep your operation efficient and the resources as lean as possible.  It also helps if the niches are counter-cyclical as well as complimentary - when real estate is down, all facets of the industry are slow.  When your focus is too narrow you're going to have to ride the cycles along with your target market.

Knowing who you are
The process of selecting and pursuing your markets is partly successful - or not - based upon the alignment between your target markets and your core competencies.  If you're not slick in your presentation, go after the markets to whom slick presentation doesn't matter.  (In fact, in some target markets slick presentation is a cause for suspicion and a slowdown in decision making to move forward.)  If fast delivery is what you're best at, the markets that will value you most are the ones for whom speed makes or breaks the bottom line.  Connect where you're good at connecting.  Do what you are best at doing.  That creates a business model for sustainability.

So, Goldilocks, what's just right for you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The emotional downward spiral and feeling stuck

If you're feeling stuck and mad about it, this post is for you...a bit of tough love for today.

Here you are, in circumstances that are the culmination of a lot of contributing factors.  It is likely that your current situation did not develop overnight.  But as the human mind is programmed for crisis (remember your hormonal friend adrenaline?) this might have sneaked up on you on stealthy feet when you weren't looking.

You might have done something downright boneheaded, or you might have been neglectful of your responsibilities.  But here you are.  And you are here regardless of the reasons, regardless of what that something was that got you here.  So HERE is where you start.

Do you want to stay here?   Do you want to sell out and remain stuck and embrace victimhood?  If so, keep going with the self-flagellation.  Keep telling yourself that you're not worthy, you're stupid, you're disorganized or whatever the self-recrimination du jour may be.  You will start to attract experiences that are in alignment with those views, and you will notice elements in your environment that reinforce your negative perceptions.  You will even start to adapt your behavior to align with your view of yourself.  "I'm bad at math, so I might as well not even study for my test." Great.  What a way to ensure that you'll get a bad score on your test!  "I'm fat already, so I might as well have another piece of cake."  (Are you aware that the difference between the daily caloric intake of an ideal weight woman and an overweight woman is 100 calories?  Only 100!  That's as little as one food or exercise decision per day in alignment with your goals.)

So how do you change your emotions?  Take action.  Do something.  A tiny step in the direction of greater alignment with your desired outcome will start the snowball rolling down the hill.  Actions will give you the opportunity to prove your value to yourself.  You will start to generate small wins that will lay the groundwork for bigger wins, until you're fully unstuck and on your way.

Here's today's mini-coaching video on this topic:

The difference between the people who succeed and the people who don't is that the people who succeed get back up and get on with it.  "Hopeium" won't get you there.  Blaming won't get you there.  The next step in alignment with your desired outcome - today and right now - will send you on a better track.  You can do this.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Caring for the water in the fishbowl

In the Fish Bowl of Homosassa Springs, Florida by Old Shoe Woman
In the Fish Bowl of Homosassa Springs, Florida,
a photo by 
Old Shoe Woman on Flickr. 
 What does water in a fishbowl have to do with leadership?  Everything.  OK, fans of metaphor - this one's for you...

The water you're employees are swimming in is your culture.  Because they (and you) are swimming in it they don't necessarily notice it - until it gets murky and the oxygen is being sucked out of their environment.  Even then, they don't generally try to jump out.  They just keep swimming until the toxicity in the water kills them.

The dictionary calls culture "the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group."  You see it in company routines like

  1. Meetings  (what's on the agenda, who's invited, what the outputs are, who talks, etc.)
  2. Lunch breaks (or the lack thereof)
  3. Memos (how many, how long, distributed to whom and for what purposes)
  4. Decision making processes (top-down, collaborative, autocratic, wishy-washy, evidence based, etc.)
  5. Other processes (well-oiled machines or hairballs)
  6. Performance evaluations (objective, subjective, on time or late, scary or supportive)
  7. Staff development (occasional events, a way of life, or nonexistent)
Culture can also be revealed by examining the physical environment in a workplace:
  • Offices vs. cubicles vs. bullpens - indicators of status, allowances for privacy, accommodations for direct eyesight supervision
  • Colors - spirited, professional, industrial, planned, unplanned
  • Allocation and use of space - functional cul-de-sacs or proximity, common areas vs. departmental turf, who's got the better view
  • Housekeeping - tidy and well-maintained or cluttered and held together with spit and bailing wire
  • Attire and grooming of employees - degree of casualness and extent of variation from the c-level to the front lines
As a leader one of your main charges is to manage the climate - the water in your fishbowl - so that it contributes to employee engagement and ultimately customer loyalty.  You can ignore the water for a while without incident.  But beware - there are particles floating around out there that might look harmless right now, but that will suck the air right out of the place.  Doing a bit now and regularly thereafter will prevent you from having to take more drastic measures later to keep the fish swimming.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Can you be sales oriented AND customer focused

Sale by Gerard Stolk (vers le Midi Carême)
Sale, a photo by Gerard Stolk (vers le Midi Carême) on Flickr.
On a number of occasions a 1970's vintage quote from persuasion professor Richard Vatz, PhD.,  has seemed germaine to the conversation, and this is one of those occasions:  "There are those who would say that it is impossible to be both a good daughter AND a good date."
There's nothing like an eyebrow-raising quote with dating references to get the conversational juices going in 18-to-20-year-old social butterflies.  Dr. Vatz was trying to point out, of course, that there are concepts that don't seem to go together.
The persuasive effectiveness in his statement was enabled by listeners' assumptions about what it means to be each of those two things.  He was counting on the fact that young adults free from direct parental observation would interpret "good daughter" as virtuous and "good date" as "willing to put out."  And then, of course, the conflict in concepts was revealed and everybody had a good belly laugh over it.
So what does that have to do with sales and customer focus?  Everything - because many people still have assumptions about what it means to be in a sales role:
  • Pushiness
  • Self-interest over concern about customer wants and needs
  • Bending of the truth
  • Slick (or perhaps tacky) appearance
  • (Fill in your own blanks) __________________________________
Just like Dr. Vatz's contrast, this one relies on assumptions and habits of thought that may or may not be true.  Old-school sales of the arm-wrestling variety is quite different from a process of helping customers find and purchase goods and services that they truly want and need.

The difference is in the details.  If you use shorthand to talk about sales efforts you will automatically invoke the stored stereotypical idea of what that means.  And you're likely to hear or observe a negative reaction to the idea.

The process of helping people buy is reliant upon relationship, the effective discover of customer wants and needs, and the maintenance of pace in the conversation that is comfortable for the prospective customer.  The "assistant buyer" mentality in a salesperson relieves the customer - and the salesperson - from pressure.  And without pressure, there is far less resistance to the decision-making process that may indeed result in a sale.  When the customer wants what the salesperson has, the customer drives the process - they buy.

Your staff probably has those old ideas about what it means to sell stashed in their brains - and you might also have it in there in your own.  They - and you - need to understand and implement a defined process that will help keep them in assistant buyer mode.  They need to practice moving their hands and feet in that way, so they won't have to discover the path when they are in a live sales opportunity situation.

Sales orientation and customer focus need not be mutually exclusive terms.  You need not choose.  It's in the HOW you get it done that you'll find the opportunities to bridge the attitudinal and behavioral gaps.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Are you making it difficult to buy from you?

Frustrated Shoppers by nexus06_it
Frustrated Shoppers, a photo by nexus06_it on Flickr.
Nothing happens in your business until somebody sells something.  You might think you have a great product, but by whose definition?  Is it great because it has attributes that you appreciate, or is the definition tied up in its ability to generate revenue?
Let's say for a moment that we agree that you have an outstanding product - everybody should have one.  If you are not achieving your sales goals, is it possible that you are making it difficult for people to buy?
Here are methods for keeping customers out of your facility and away from the cash registers:
  • Maintain short or erratic open hours in your retail location.  Keep them coming back to check whether you're open.  And if you're not -- psych!
  • Don't put signage out front.  If they don't know where you are by now they are too ignorant to be your customers.
  • Mix your inventory so they have to search for the category of product that they want.  And for heaven's sake, don't post a map of the store!  You want them to walk past every item of merchandise on their way to the one thing that they needed today.
  • Corollary to the prior bullet:  Configure your layout so that it's easy to become lost in the maze.  People spend more when they are upset and confused.
  • Don't give anything away.  The freeloaders that want samples aren't shoppers - they only want something for nothing.
  • Accept cash only.  Embrace the idea that people should be carrying wallets or money clips, thus saving your business the unnecessary cost of processing credit and debit transactions.  And if it's a big ticket item, too bad.  They can come back when they can afford it.
  • Hide your rest rooms and other convenience facilities.  You don't want unnecessary traffic blocking the REAL customers.  Move them in and move them out.  No lingering.
  • Hover near shoppers and let them know by your incessant "May I show you something?" questions that you want serious shoppers only.  And especially watch out for "those" suspicious looking people who are probably waiting for an opportunity to steal from you.  Make sure they know that you have your eye on them while they are in your store.
  • Keep your return policies restrictive.  Wouldn't want someone to think they can cheat you.
Are these exaggerations to the point of silliness?  It would be nice to be able to answer "yes, absolutely!" to that question, but you know that these points aren't far from the truth. 

If you want your business to attract and then retain customers you won't be able to do it solely through discounts and advertising.  It's about becoming the kind of business that is welcoming, responsive, accommodating, communicative, and fair.  It requires that you look at your business through your prospective and current customers' eyes.  People buy more when you make it easy for them to buy. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Uncovering your business's hidden cash

Hiding the settlement cash by Toby Simkin
Hiding the settlement cash, a photo by Toby Simkin on Flickr.
Few businesses are throwing cash around the way they used to - gone are some of the flashier perks of being an executive, like club memberships and frequent conferences in conveniently tropical destinations. Things have been tight enough for long enough that some of the would-be fundamentals are even shrinking or at risk of doing so - fully employer-paid premiums and low deductibles on employee health plans, for instance.

Cash is king, and when it's in short supply, it's emperor of the realm.  Yet substantially more of it is in businesses than owners and managers realize.  It's tucked away in the cracks and crevices of work processes.  Here are just a few examples:
  • Raw goods on hand for the manufacture of several different products. 
  • Finished goods in inventory, stored and awaiting a customer order.
  • Accounts receivable that are paying slowly - or not at all.
  • Circuitous process of order-to-production-to-packaging-to-shipping.
When looking for hidden cash, process is often the culprit that's been stashing away the packs of tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars.  Even when companies are aware of the waste involved in excess inventories, or of the potential efficiencies of applying technology to certain portions of their processes, they often forget to look inside the business processes, where the sneaky cash thief has secreted extra bucks on the side.

Service businesses might think they are exempt from the hidden cash issue, but not so.  They might not be buying product for manufacturing, but they are often consuming goods in the course of providing service.  In addition,  service businesses have to capitalize on time, which is a finite resource.  Customer throughput with efficiency and effectiveness saves resources (cash) and reduced cycle times create opportunities to serve more customers within a specified time window - which generates more cash more rapidly.

Before you borrow, before you take on a partner to inject additional capital, before you spend cash to invest in automation or other technology, take a close look at your business's core processes.  Look on the business and support services as well as the production side of the house.  Ask the people doing the work to identify the potholes, wasted steps, ineffective hand-offs between functions, etc.  Hire a process improvement specialist (that's Summit) to help your staff reinvent the steps they take to get the job done.  Your investment in process improvement can take as much as 80% or more out of the time needed to do the job, and literally can unlock millions of dollars from the nooks and crannies of your business operations.
Summit provides the structure through which work teams can analyze, improve, reinvent, and implement cycle time reduction for key processes.  That work can result in faster delivery, better quality, less cost, and less employee and customer frustration.